How did yoga get so soft and easy?
Over the weekend, there was another of those periodic “I’m giving up Ashtanga” posts in the blogosphere. You surely know the type I mean.
A few people highlighted it for our attention. We saw it. The thing is: There wasn’t really anything new.
Quick reminder of our mission here: It’s to be a forum or clearinghouse for news, opinion and thoughts about Ashtanga, with a heavy emphasis on the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence teachers. Other stuff — yoga more generally, diet (as per Bobbie’s coconut water post yesterday), Hindu philosophy, a bit of Bhakti — fills in the cracks.
If we are going to stretch beyond that mission, we try very hard to meet two other criteria:
- Offer something universal, useful or, we hope, insightful for readers. This is meant to be the guiding principle of the (hopefully fairly rare) posts about our own practice. We don’t expect you to care how our practice was today. We think you might care if we encountered a barrier, a tip or an “ah ha!” moment that might help your practice. (Thus, I’m not boring you by letting you know how much Monday’s Badha Konasana adjustment killed.)
- Point you to something worth your valuable time. This comes from my journalism training, specifically regarding book reviews: So few people read books, it is not worth wasting a review on a bad book, on one you don’t think people should read. (The exceptions are the books that are culture phenomena that demand review.) In the same vein, we try to avoid telling you about online things that we don’t believe will add value to your practice. It’s our editing prerogative, admittedly.
Oh, one last tenant: We do try to be entertaining. And relatively brief. I’m failing at both of these this time.
That said, the combination of Monday’s Badha Konasana beatdown and yet another post about giving up Ashtanga because it is too hard and too structured and too dogmatic made me think this:
Who said yoga should be easy? Where did the blissed-out, loving-all-creation image of yoga come from?
Seriously, I’m asking. Because my experience and my growing knowledge base of yoga, Tantra and Hindu thinking (Hindu here meaning what it literally means, “of India”) don’t provide me any answers. I don’t see a basis for yoga as an easy path in the tradition from which it comes. And I really don’t get how Tantric-based yoga (or -inspired or yogas that claim some kind of loose Tantric root) can be anything other than hardcore and esoteric.
I think back, instead, to David Swenson’s imitating Guruji (at the Confluence and other times): “Yoga is hard!” And, at some point, David also joked: “I don’t practice Ashtanga. It’s far too difficult.”
Now, I’m not discounting the value of “yogas” that are a bit squishier than Ashtanga. (I might be discounting some of them, truth is told.) I’m open to a broad range of paths. (More truth: I’m “openish.”) What I’m more questioning is the priority or preference given to yoga that “feels good” or to a yoga that is a safe and happy path to the Divine. Why isn’t the default definition or idea of yoga something more like Tapasya?
Because my learning tells me that’s much closer to what yoga — and however asana fits in — was.
My guess is it has something to do with the Bhagavad Gita and Bhatki Yoga, but how that then translates into all these asana styles I don’t get. Somehow there was a confluence of two or more different Yogas. Where did the confluence of these happen? When? Why did the one emerge victorious, for lack of a better metaphor?
And, yes, I understand that our modern asana practice is 125 years or so old, with some roots that burrow further back in time. But this confuses things for me more: When Indians were creating these “new” asanas, their goal was something rigorous and awe-inspiring, something that could take pride in. It wasn’t something easy.
Today, though, yoga is. Does anyone know how that happened?
Posted by Steve